First, a warning. This review contains a couple of major spoilers for the *first* volume of Gurren Lagann because, well, I don’t see how I could possibly review this volume without doing so. Bearing that in mind if you have not yet watched the first volume (unless you’ve had it spoiled for you already – I know I had) then you should probably save reading this review until you have. Right, that’s that out of the way.
Volume Two of Gurren Lagann begins where the first volume cliff-hanger left it (anything else would have been a bit surprising, wouldn’t it?) with team Dai-Gurren reeling from the double shock of losing Kamina and learning that Nia, the mysterious girl Simon rescued from a box is in fact the daughter of their enemy, the Spiral King; Lordgenome. This double-combo blow hits young Simon pretty hard as it’s obvious he is smitten with Nia from the moment he sets eyes on her. Not knowing quite what to make of the situation, the wonderfully emotive Adiane the Elegant leaves them alone for now (like any good henchperson, she has to go and ask what to do) but Simon is left in a pretty bad state and retreats to the safety of his room in their new base to carve statues of his lost ‘Bro’ (in what is with hindsight, a nice piece of foreshadowing). Soon though, they find themselves under attack and Simon has to get Lagann working again in order to save Nia – and the only way Lagann will work is if he overcomes his despair.
Team Dai-Gurren are now installed in the comandeered mobile fortress Dai-Ganzan, possibly the most hilariously phallic weapon of war ever seen in a mech show – and that’s saying something. Indeed, all of Gurren Lagann’s Gunmen ‘go beyond’ what we have seen before in so many ways that they almost create a new mech genre all their own. Even super robots have limits, Gunmen are almost magical by comparison, sprouting massive appendages seemingly from nowhere and mirroring the facial expression of their occupants. This is the Gainax of FLCL at work. Who cares about the how, or even the why? It happens because it’s cool, it happens because it’s funny. And I *love* that. I sat down to watch this second volume of Gurren Laggan knowing that no matter where the story went, I was going to be entertained. And there were plenty of moments which just cracked me up, several of which were nothing more than facial expressions. In particular, Adiane’s time on the screen was far too short for my liking. Not only does she have the most ludicrously expressive face but also her Sayrune Gunmen, with its eyes for breasts and talking crotch, had the potential to look like a Freudian nightmare were it not in the hands of the cheeky animators at Gainax. They are brilliant visual entertainers, now moreso than ever I’d say, which is praise indeed from an oldschool Gunbuster and Eva fan.
When Simon does emerge from the darkness it is with spectacular strength of conviction, and we can clearly see that he is righful heir to Kamina’s legacy – as can the rest of Team Gurren, who waste no time in unanimously proclaiming him their new leader. Several battles with Adiane, Cytomander and Guame, the remaining of Lordgenome’s ‘Four Generals’ ensue on their way to face the Spiral King himself at his capital Teppelin. The journey provides for plenty of laughs and action, but I couldn’t help but feel that the first disc of Volume Two was the weakest the show has had to offer so far because of the lack in progress of the story. It’s far from poor though and it is evident that plenty of thought went into the pacing, as time away from the battlefield is spent fleshing out Nia’s endearing character and her relationships with Simon and Yoko. In one episode some fanservice filled (but overtly self aware) beach scenes, in another Nia’s quest to find her vocation as the ship’s cook (despite the fact that everyone but Simon hates her cooking). It may be that I also have something against this particular disc for the subtitling problems which plague episodes 10 and 11 – I counted no less than seven lines of spoken dialogue left unsubtitled, and a couple with irregular characters jumbled into them. Beez have said that anyone in possesion of a faulty disc should get in touch with them, something which I certainly will be doing as a release with that many missing subtitles is unacceptable.
On to the second disc, and both the technical problems and lack of plot progression are quickly forgotten. Despite one being a clip show, the episodes on disc two are all-round excellent. You understand why episode 16 *needs* to be a clip show after you’ve watched episode 15, which I imagine easily blew the budget of two episodes with it’s staggering visuals bringing Act One of Gurren Lagann to a close. The battle with the Spiral King is finally at hand. He has many things to reveal about the nature of Gurren Lagann as well as the power of the Spiral, and in the battle’s aftermath we’re about to witness some big changes. Seven years worth of changes, to be exact (not a spoiler, if you didn’t see it coming you’d be very unobservant as adult Simon and Nia feature on the box art). With Simon installed as the ruler of the above ground human metropolis of ‘Kamina City’ and with former team Dai-Gurren members as it’s government, things aren’t quite what they had expected. Tending to the needs of the growing population is not Simon’s strong suit. He would rather be out fighting Viral, who is the last rebel holding out against his regime. Rossiu however, the real power behind the throne and now head of Kamina City’s civil service, wants to keep Simon safe as a symbol – and the citizens safe from reckless mecha battles. Though by keeping Simon restrained, it seems he has also given him time to reflect on and and come to conclusions over his relationship with (a naive as ever) Nia. However, that relationship is about to be threatened more than Simon could ever have imagined. With Lordgenome’s final words threatening disaster when the human population reaches one million, the time for Simon to fight is about to come again…